Died With A Smile

by Paul Goetz 

Parenting has been one of the most interesting, challenging, and rewarding experiences of my life. The gamut continues. With my son now 10 and my daughter now 7 memories of leaking diapers in public places have taken a spot in the long-term memory bank.

I’m an only child, so the multitudinous dynamics of sibling rivalry and interaction are somewhat new for me. It’s intriguing to watch my kids tease each other, and get each other’s goat. Both are equally talented, and usually quite successful. Various forms of physical contact and related antagonistic measures seem to come equally to both my son and my daughter. After years of observation, dismay, and mediation, I do not believe there are any gender related differences. Only, perhaps, some culturally learned gender strategies. My daughter has the same propensity for hitting, etc. as my son. However, she is more apt to resort to the Ali “float like a butterfly sting like a bee” strategy, as opposed to the Tyson, “I’m comin’ to get ya mo fo” approach, although she’s capable of both.

They love each other dearly, and frequently cuddle. But, sooner or later, one of them is hitting the other, or they’re wrestling. Nothing vicious, or really violent, but just sport. And, of course, one always tries to blame the other for starting it. One of the most interesting to watch is when one does something non-physical, like taking something, or using favorite antagonistic or teasing words, or encroaching on the other’s space, that they know will cause the other to start something physical. Drooling is one of the more nebulous ones. “I didn’t hit him first,” I’ve heard. They can give new meaning to the term “escalate.”

Just before the start of the new school year they both had a classmate/friend sleep over. We were all watching a movie and talking (two 7 year old girls, two 10 year old boys, and me) when the conversation took an interesting turn. My daughter’s friend, quite matter of factly, kind of out of the blue, stated, “girls can hit boys, but boys can’t hit girls.” I just sat quietly for a bit to see where the conversation would go, while my mind raced, wondering if someone had actually taught her that, or whether it was something that she had just picked up.

The boys (who are going into 5th grade) began talking about how the girls in their classes are often not disciplined for doing many of the same things for which the boys are disciplined. I found that sort of interesting since I know they have both had predominantly female teachers. They mentioned things like girls talking while standing in line (after being told not to), talking out of turn in class, and getting out of their seats to visit a friend at their desk. Also discussed was the subject of “headdress.” Hats are not allowed to be worn in class. Of course baseball caps are the currently popular form of male headdress, and the boys are sometimes caught violating the rule. Girls, on the other hand, are into ribbons, bows, and other doo-dads. So, the rule effectively says that girls can decorate their heads, but the boys can’t.

I finally asked the girl where she had learned that about who can hit who. She refused to answer my question, but smiled quite coyly.

LEARNING BY EXAMPLE 101

The previous day the local newspapers had an article about DFL Senator, Kevin Chandler. Much to the chagrin of some, the state legislature had just decided not to pursue an ethics complaint against him for slapping his wife. Chandler had recently pleaded guilty to 5th degree domestic assault for slapping his wife outside a St. Paul bar, toward the end of their divorce proceedings.

Chandler’s wife apparently readily admits that she hit him first, and instigated the physical contact. I’ve seen assorted pieces in the local papers several times about various aspects of the matter, including articles about “wife-beating,” and “violence against women,” and “battering,” but I never remember reading anything about any governmental agency considering filing charges against Chandler’s wife for assault. And, I don’t remember reading anything whatsoever even hinting that Chandler’s wife had even done anything wrong. And, I wonder, if Chandler’s wife were a legislator, whether there would be any considerations given to filing an ethics complaint against her. Like my daughter’s 7 year old girlfriend says, “girls can hit boys, but boys can’t hit girls.” I guess that’s just part of “Minnesota Nice.” Maybe some of you, especially from the Midwest, have heard that phrase. Or maybe it’s “United States Nice.”

Earlier in 1995 there was the case of St. Paul attorney, Jeanne Chacon, and her fiancee, Peter Erlinder. After a physical confrontation between the two of them she called the police, and he was arrested, and charged with assault. She readily admits that she first assaulted Erlinder. After she initiated the physical contact he apparently used physical force to restrain her. However, later, even after she tried to turn herself into the St. Paul Police, and admitted to two counts of assault, the government refused to arrest or prosecute her. He also stated that while she was assaulting him, a second time, beating him about he head, cutting his lip, and scratching him, he did not even try to restrain her, out of fear that he would be arrested a second time.

I’ve come across countless articles in newspapers regarding violent acts by women against men, women, and children. From the Susan Smith, Pamela Smart, and Loretta Bobbit incidents, to a woman delivering a baby into a toilet and stabbing it, to mothers throwing children off bridges, to a woman waiting in a car, with a gun, for a man to come out of a building. One of the most novel was a woman who put out a contract on the mother of her daughter’s cheer leading rival/social competitor.

Just the other day, there was an article about an incident in Minneapolis, where the police are looking for a woman who allegedly entered the residence of her former boyfriend, stabbed him and his new girlfriend, and then took off. What struck me as odd was that the police, at the same time they claim to be looking for the suspect, failed to release either the identity or description of the suspect to the public. I guess they don’t want any leads. It seems to me that when the suspect is a male there is usually an APB with descriptions all over the media.

All of the articles, besides having to do with violent acts by women, also have one other common characteristic. They never contain any emotionally charged connotative terminology that is used by the media when the violence is by a man, such an “battering” and “wife beating.” And there is no subliminally suggestive terminology whatsoever linking the one specific act to any pattern of occurrences, such as suggesting “violence by women.” In fact, even the words “domestic violence” are never used.

LEARNING BY EXAMPLE 102

Copyright © 1995, 1996 by Paul F. Goetz